Leigh Day senior partner Martyn Day ‘did not acknowledge’ the word ‘bribe’ in emails about claims against UK forces in Iraq, and put the use of the word down to a colleague being ‘fed up’, the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal heard today.
Day was giving evidence for the fifth day in the tribunal's hearing into allegations of misconduct concerning claims against the Ministry of Defence. He was directed to emails in which the word 'bribe' was used when discussing the collection of evidence from ten Iraqi police officers. Solicitors were discussing ‘work leave payments’ which it was asked to pay in order to secure the policemen leave of absence so they could be interviewed in neighbouring countries.
The word was used in three separate emails, two of which Day said he had seen and one that he said he had not.
In one email, Sapna Malik, a partner at the firm, told Day that Khudur Al-Sweady, a client of the firm, had the firm ‘wrapped round his finger’ regarding money. She referenced ‘various expenses, including bribe money’ for leave from work that the firm would have to pay.
Day, who did not acknowledge the use of the term ‘bribe’ in his response, said he thought Malik’s email was ‘born out of frustration’.
‘At no point did I take the word literally,’ he told the tribunal. ‘My perception was that it was very late at night and this was the sign of a lawyer who was a little bit fed up. It did not occur to me that “bribe” is what she really meant.’
Representing the Solicitors Regulation Authority, Timothy Dutton QC said: ‘Being fed up would not usually cause one to use the word “bribe”. I suggest that you authorised the bribe payments to keep things smooth.'
Day replied: ‘I can only tell you my perception regarding use of the term. You will have to ask her [Malik] what she intended by it.’
Dutton also pointed to another email, this time from Phil Shiner, the since disgraced former solicitor and head of human rights firm Public Interest Lawyers. Regarding money to pay for passport fees for potential clients, Shiner said he had concerns that the payments might be viewed as a ‘disguised bribe’.
Day, who responded two minutes later, acknowledged the email but said costs queries should be sent to Malik.
‘I have no recollection of the word “bribe,” appearing in the email,’ Day said. He added that he ‘would have scanned the email’ and realised that Malik would have been better placed to deal with it given that it concerned costs.
Day and Malik, Leigh Day and solicitor Anna Crowther, deny a total of 47 allegations of misconduct over their role in bringing claims that British troops ‘mutilated, tortured and killed’ Iraqi civilians in 2004.
The subsequent Al-Sweady public inquiry found those claims to be fabricated.
All four respondents deny wrongdoing. The hearing continues.